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TV Review: Game of Thrones – Season Two Premiere

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When last we left Westeros in HBO’s hit sword and sorcery series Game of Thrones, young Joffrey sat on the iron throne in the wake of Robert Baratheon’s death, while the entire kingdom threatened to come apart in wars, rebellions, and general slaughter and mayhem. When the series returns this Sunday night, the battle to take the crown from Joffrey’s ruthless, cruel head will commence is already in progress.

If you’ve not watched season one, nor read the first of Martin’s novels, I strongly suggest you play a bit of catch-up. HBO has provided a featurette that will allow you to do just that—especially if you don’t have time to watch all 10 of last season’s episodes.

Game of Thrones, based on the fantasy novel series by George R.R. Martin is a lavish, beautifully shot epic. No one among the main characters is especially likable and it’s hard to know exactly for whom to root. With so many aspirants ready to usurp, or rather, take what’s rightfully theirs (that being the Iron Throne of Westros), who knows which shall prevail. Will it be one of Robert’s brothers, the dour, but brilliant Stannis (Stephen Dillane, HBO’s John Adams) or the charming Renly (Gethin Anthony), last seen fleeing King’s Landing? 

Will Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), the daughter of the murdered and brutal Rhaegar, from whom Robert took the throne manage to reclaim the throne for House Targaryen. She is, after all, of legendary dragon blood and owns several young dragons, but at the moment, she has no power, few men at her command, and only Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) to advise her and a small, starving khalasar to protect her on her journey to King’s Landing.

Or perhaps there’s one of Robert’s numerous bastard sons running around town who might have a claim? Of course the Lannisters are doing their level best to rid themselves of those petty nusiances. But will they succeed?

I’ve seen the first two episodes of new Game of Thrones season, and they are action-packed, full of intrigues and plot, swords, sex and even a little sorcery. All the characters seem older this season; whether that’s because time has passed or the unified kingdom’s troubles are causing stress, I’m not sure.  Cersei, (Lena Heady, 300) though still beautiful, seems more weary than all-powerful (perhaps that has to do with her brutal son), and the younger characters all seem to have aged. Robb Stark (Richard Madden), Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), and Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) all seem older—as does King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).

The plot is complex as the series picks up in season two, involving several families of nobles, many claimants to the throne of the Seven Kingdoms, lots of sex, and plenty of bloodshed. So, here’s the short version: King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy, The Full Monty), whose reign had united the seven disparate kingdoms of Westeros is now dead, likely at the hand of his wife Cersei of House Lannister.

The Lannisters, the most powerful family in the all the kingdoms are a ruthless clan of cold-blooded, power-hungry aristocrats. Tywin (Charles Dance) sits at the head of the clan. His daughter Cersei married into the Baratheon dynasty out of convenience, but has kept a long-standing liaison with her brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), called the Kingslayer. Jamie assassinated the prior king, enabling Robert to take the throne.

With Robert’s death, his “son” Joffrey inherits the throne, however, it is clear that Joffrey is in no way Robert’s son, instead the offspring of Cersei and Jaime. He resembles the Lannisters both in looks and temperament, perhaps even more chilling than either of his (real) parents Jamie and Cersei.

Tywin’s other son Tyrion (the wonderful Peter Dinklage, who won both a Golden Globe and Emmy for his portrayal in season one) is a dwarf, whose sheer intellect and considerable charm have kept him alive and make him the most appealing of all the series characters! With Joffrey on the throne, Tyrion is perhaps also the only one who is enough unafraid of powerful brat King Joffrey to temper his nearly psychotic personality. Tywin has sent him to serve as the King’s Hand, to assist Queen Cersei, Joffrey’s regent. As for Jaime, it seems he has been captured by Robb Starks and being held as for possible barter with the Lannisters.

Then there are Robert’s brothers the aforementioned Renly  and the brilliant Stannis both of whom claim the throne. We don’t see much of Renly in the first episode, since he’s fled the scene, but Stannis is much aware that Joffrey is in no way Robert’s and has no legitimate claim to the throne. He is on the move and ready to sit upon the powerful Iron Throne, aligning with the sorceress Melisandre, whose magic will help Stannis claim what he believes is his rightful inheritance.

The family with the biggest axe to grind with Joffrey and the Lannister clan is the House of Stark, who rule Winterfell in the North. Last season, the brutal Joffrey executed Eddard Stark (Sean Bean, Lord of the Rings), leaving his son Robb at the head of the clan. Robb has rallied his bannermen to exact revenge on Joffery for his father’s murder. But more than that, he wants to declare the North as an independent nation-state, and be free of the alliance forged by his father and Robert Baretheon. His capture of Jamie just might buy that in a trade.

And far to the north lies the wall, beyond which lies a place of myth and mystery, beyond which lies the legendary kingdom of wildlings, loosely led by the mysterious Mance Rayder. What is the threat originating from this land of ice and snow?

Whatever it may be, the Night’s Watch, the men in sworn to guard the wall—a monk-like army of men who’ve “taken the black”—vows that include fealty and celibacy to protect all the lands that lie south of it.  It is here that Eddard Stark’s noble, yet rebellious bastard son Jon Snow will find his destiny and purpose. If he can survive, that is!

Season two begins on HBO Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. ET. Here’s a little tease to get you warmed up against the chill. After all, say the Starks, “Winter is Coming!”

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.